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East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Monday, 27 January 2020

2020 Tokyo Olympics to showcase Japanese technology

Japan aims to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to underline that it remains a major global force in innovation and technology.

Visitors can expect to encounter driverless cars, multilingual robot volunteers and ultra-high-definition TV replays.

“Tokyo is at the front of innovation and technology and we are hoping to develop and popularise a diverse range of technological innovations,” says Hidetoshi Fujisawa, Tokyo 2020’s executive director of communications and engagement. 

“The 2020 Games are an opportunity for Japan, for its capital and for the Japanese business community to amaze the world.”

Robots made by Japanese car manufacturer Toyota will be deployed across the Tokyo 2020 sites to aid both workers and attendees at the Games later this year.

Toyota will provide 16 support robots to assist sports fans with tasks such as carrying food and drink, guiding people to their seats and providing event information.

Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, says: “The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology. This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people.

“So, there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to as well.

"Robot technology will help deliver a safer and smoother Games and, while robots will be deployed only in specific roles during the Games, the project is expected to showcase their potential for wider application in everyday life."

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has also unveiled the “G-SATELLITE Go to Space” project, which plans to manufacture a small satellite and deploy it in orbit around the earth.

Aimed at both promoting and enlivening the Tokyo 2020 Games from space, the satellite’s payload will include “GUNDAM” and “ZAKU”, two of Japan’s most popular animated characters.

The last time Japan hosted the biggest sporting show on the planet – back in 1964 – it wowed the world by unveiling the shinkansen, the sleek high-speed bullet train that has led the world ever since.

Bullet trains remain a benchmark for ultra-fast and efficient transport.

Japan also used the 1964 Tokyo Games to show off technology including Sharp's LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screens, the first global satellite feed for TV coverage and the Sony Walkman music player.

Japan now faces business challenges from China, South Korea and the United States when it comes to the latest in technological innovation but organisers of the 2020 Games aim to dazzle once more.

“Our vision for the 2020 Games includes an aspiration to make them the most innovative in history," says Masa Takaya, a spokesman for Tokyo 2020.

Japan Inc. is ready to use the occasion to show off innovative new products, said Masanori Matsushima, manager at Panasonic's Olympics department, who oversees an entire exhibition space devoted to Games-time tech.

When overseas visitors arrive at Tokyo’s two airports – Narita and Haneda - they will be greeted by multilingual robots primed to assist them and automatic chairs designed to take them to a destination selected by smartphone.

A man-made meteor shower is projected to be part of the opening ceremony and drone-based surveillance technology will be used to supplement human security guards at venues.

Technology giant NEC is deploying a facial recognition system for 300,000 athletes, staff and journalists that will identify people within 0.3 seconds—speeding up access to venues and bolstering security.

Fujitsu, meanwhile, is working with the International Gymnastics Federation to use laser technology to provide data that will be used by judges to supplement what they see with their own eyes.

NHK hopes to impress a global TV audience with programming of events in ultra high-definition 8K but the main sector hoping to use the games as a spur to innovation is transport.

Toyota will be rolling out its futuristic e-Palette, a driverless car without a steering wheel “which will be able to move around in a pre-defined zone," says Yasunobu Seki, Department General Manager at Toyota's Olympic and Paralympic division.

All Nippon Airways recently tested a driverless bus at Haneda Airport and some driverless taxi services aim to be fully functional in time for the Olympics.

The satellite project, meanwhile, is the result of collaboration between Tokyo 2020 and the University of Tokyo, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and three companies in Fukui prefecture.

This will be the first time in Olympic and Paralympic history that a satellite commissioned specially for the Games will orbit the earth independently.

It will be transported to the International Space Station by rocket and launched from there. It will contain a cubicle housing the two animated figures GUNDAM and ZAKU and an electric bulletin board, which will appear once the satellite is in orbit.

Seven cameras in the satellite will record and transmit their movements. Measuring just 10cm x 10cm x 30cm, the G-SATELLITE will orbit the earth for the duration of the Games, broadcasting images of the planet.

Shinichi Nakasuka, a professor at Intelligent Space Systems Laboratory, University of Tokyo, says: “When I heard about this project, I wondered whether they would really go through with it. We’ve put satellites into orbit before, but then I thought we might be able to do something in space to help cheer on the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“I’m feeling a bit of pressure as the creator of the satellite for this project, but I will turn that pressure into enjoyment and do my best.”

Tokyo 2020 has begun nationwide collections of discarded and obsolete electronic devices, including smartphones, digital cameras, hand-held games and laptops, in order to use the metal they contain in the production of the medals that will be awarded to athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tokyo 2020 partner companies have also been supporting the project in various ways, for example by collecting their employees' used mobile phones.

Tokyo 2020's mission statement when bidding to host the Olympics for a second time was to use the "world's best technologies" when developing operations for the Games. It appears to be living up to its promise. 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Quest Kudos magazine.   

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